The early signs of dementia include forgetfulness, misplacing of objects, struggling to find the right words, personality changes, and confusion.

We all walk into the kitchen and forget what we came for, or misplace our keys every now and then. So, what is normal forgetfulness and what could indicate that there may be a problem?

Dementia is the term for a set of symptoms that include memory lapses, difficulties thinking and solving problems, impaired communication and behavioural changes.

The early signs of dementia can often be subtle to begin with, but they may gradually escalate until they can affect every aspect of daily life.

Dementia can affect different people in different ways, each individual is unique. However, there are some key signs to look out for:

Memory loss

Forgetfulness is often a significant early sign.

Dementia tends to affect short-term memory more than reminiscences from the past. So, an individual may be able to clearly remember things from their childhood but be unable to recall what happened that morning, or even things that were mentioned half an hour previously.

Mislaying possessions

Memory can also affect function in other ways, so your loved one may misplace items.

We can all be absent-minded, but with dementia, items like glasses, phones, TV remotes and car keys may be secreted away into odd and inappropriate places.

Forgetfulness that affects daily life

When the degree of memory loss disrupts an individual’s daily life, it’s important to get help and support.

You may notice your loved one missing important appointments, forgetting to pay bills or leaving the gas burner on after they’ve finished cooking.

Struggling to find words

You know the whatsit, the watch-a-ma-call-it. Oh, what’s-his-name?

We’re all guilty of occasional memory lapses, but in early dementia, the problems with expressing the right word can start to affect communication.

Someone with dementia may be unable to clearly explain themselves coherently, ask a question or tell an anecdote. This means that normal conversation can become a challenge.

Mood and personality changes

Mood changes are common in dementia, with depression being a particularly frequent feature.

You may notice that your loved one becomes quiet and socially withdrawn, this can be a direct result of the disease or it may be a way of coping with the communication difficulties. It can simply be easier not to put themselves in difficult and distressing situations.

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You may notice that your loved one becomes listless and apathetic and loses interest in hobbies and activities. They may seem flat and unengaged.

Conversely, dementia can affect judgement, so that people may become inappropriately loud and outgoing, this can sometimes be embarrassing, especially before diagnosis, and can be tricky for partners and family to deal with.

Problems with household tasks

There may be subtle changes in your loved one’s ability to perform the tasks that they used to handle with ease.

Jobs which require a combination of complex skills like setting the TV to record or balancing a chequebook can pose a problem, and they may find it difficult to learn new skills


When an individual’s memory, communication and comprehension are impaired, life can become confusing. So, it’s not surprising that people with early dementia may seem lost and perplexed.

Some people can successfully hide their confusion until their dementia is more advanced, whereas others may display their bewilderment at an earlier stage.

Problems following the plot

One of the classic symptoms of early dementia is struggling to follow a story.

Films, TV programmes and conversations with friends can be difficult to understand.

Getting lost

Understanding where we are and where we are going requires complicated spatial orientation. This ability can start to deteriorate at an early stage, in people who are affected by dementia.

It can be difficult to navigate using a map, to follow directions, or to find places that should be familiar.


When a loved one is affected by dementia, you may hear the same story, or answer the same question time and time again.

The memory loss makes repetition common in people with Alzheimer’s and other causes of dementia. This can be dangerous, with some individuals repetitively taking medicines, potentially leading to toxicity and accidental overdose.

Problems adapting to change

Familiar places, people and schedules can be reassuring and comforting for those affected by dementia.

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There is evidence that maintaining regular routines and staying in a well-known environment can improve function, independence and wellbeing. Someone in the early stages of dementia may show fear and confusion in new places, or if they are faced with unfamiliar challenges.

A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s can be devastating, both for the individual and for those that love and care for them.

People are often too frightened to seek help. But early diagnosis can make a huge difference.

Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there are some treatable causes of dementia and there have been also been great advances in Alzheimer’s care.

If you respond rapidly, your loved one may be offered medication to slow down the decline and improve function, you can also access the right care and support so that your loved one can stay independent, retain their skills and continue to live a happy and fulfilling life.

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Find out more about dementia:

Dr Jane Gilbert

Jane has over 20 years’ experience as a health writer and TV presenter. Jane writes on a wide variety of clinical and care topics – from explaining the latest studies and research to unpacking conditions and discussing treatment options. Jane holds a MBBS degree from Imperial College, London and spent seven years working in the NHS.

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